The real dirt on germs

It’s ac­tu­ally a good thing

Your Baby & Toddler - - Must Reads - By Cath Jenkin

Walk into any baby or tod­dler prod­uct store nowa­days and you’ll be greeted by an over­whelm­ing amount of anti-bac­te­rial, ster­il­i­sa­tion or keep-it-clean items, which can feel a lit­tle in­tim­i­dat­ing. There’s much to be said about let­ting kids loose to play in the mud or fid­dle with their food. In terms of tac­tile learn­ing and ex­ploratory play, let­ting chil­dren play with a va­ri­ety of tex­tures and roll around in the grass is an im­por­tant de­vel­op­men­tal ac­tiv­ity. But where do we strike the bal­ance be­tween learn­ing and keep­ing ba­bies healthy?

The dirt on germs

A re­cent re­search study con­ducted by the Di­vi­sion of Al­lergy and Im­munol­ogy at the Johns Hop­kins Chil­dren’s Cen­tre in the US found that “new­borns ex­posed to house­hold germs, pet and ro­dent dan­der and roach al­ler­gens dur­ing their first year of life ap­pear to have lower risk of de­vel­op­ing asthma and al­ler­gies. The find­ings are con­sis­tent with the so-called hy­giene hy­poth­e­sis, which states that chil­dren who grow up in too-clean en­vi­ron­ments may de­velop hy­per­sen­si­tive im­mune sys­tems that make them prone to al­ler­gies.”

This is great news for par­ents who’ve lost sleep over muddy hands and sticky messes, but be­comes a tricky dilemma when ba­bies get mov­ing, as a mo­bile kid

is more likely to get dirty and en­counter things around them that their par­ents may not want them to touch.

Your baby’s ex­po­sure

“Al­ways clean and ster­ilise your baby’s dum­mies and all feed­ing equip­ment by means of boil­ing, chem­i­cals, or steam un­til ba­bies are, at the very least, six months old. Af­ter this, it is ad­e­quate to wash and clean them with soap or wa­ter or in the dish­washer,” says Glyn­nis Cox, a spe­cial­ist physi­cian and mom of two.

Many par­ents seem to have been led to be­lieve that a turn in the dish­washer is the same as us­ing a ster­il­i­sa­tion method. Not true, says Glyn­nis: “In­for­ma­tion is con­tra­dic­tory, but I would not rec­om­mend us­ing a dish­washer in place of ster­il­is­ing be­fore six months.” And as for the al­lure of an­tibac­te­rial soaps and the wide range of ap­par­ently sani­tis­ing prod­ucts you might find in store? Think again.

rather wash their hands with regular soap and wa­ter “An­tibac­te­rial soaps are no more ef­fec­tive than con­ven­tional soap and wa­ter,” says Glyn­nis. “Tri­closan (found in an­tibac­te­rial soaps) has been found to cause prob­lems such as in­creased al­ler­gies and hay fever and in­ter­fer­ing with var­i­ous hor­mones in an­i­mals re­sult­ing in in­fer­til­ity, ar­ti­fi­cially ad­vanced early pu­berty, obe­sity and can­cer. Th­ese same ef­fects haven’t yet been found in hu­mans, but the FDA (in the US) calls the an­i­mal stud­ies ‘a con­cern’ and notes that, given the min­i­mal benefits of long term Tri­closan use, it’s likely not worth the risk. Par­ents and chil­dren should rather wash their hands with regular soap and wa­ter for 30 sec­onds.”

So, par­ents, let’s re­lax the rules a lit­tle and let our pre­cious lit­tle peo­ple roll in the mud for a while or let them ex­plore in the dust for a bit. Don’t be too afraid of your kids get­ting dirty but don’t let them put just about ev­ery­thing in their mouths ei­ther! A lit­tle com­mon sense, a dash of soap and all will be well. Yb

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